shots of bourbon

Shots of Bourbon Classic 2020

shots of bourbon

The ultimate tasting mat. | Photo by Sara Havens

It was a wild ride — one full of bourbon, bourbon knowledge and more bourbon. But Bourbon Classic 2020 is now in the books, and all I have to show for it is a tad bit of a hangover and, thankfully, an encyclopedia full of experiences.

I tasted Pappy, I tasted William Larue Weller, I tasted bourbons not available to the public and I got a taste of what happens when the bourbon industry comes together with local chefs and bartenders for an extraordinary evening of blissful food and cocktail pairings.

I hope this doesn’t come off as, “Hey, look what I got to do and you didn’t!” I’m simply sharing my experiences here so that next year, when this event rolls around, you maybe get a ticket and try it out for yourself. In fact, I think tickets might already be on sale for 2021.

This past weekend’s event was completely sold out, and I met people from all around the country — just one one afternoon session! My table, during the “Best Whiskeys of the World” Bourbon University class, included people from Cleveland, Michigan and Florida. That’s the most fun part of it — witnessing all of these people flock to your hometown for a one-of-a-kind experience in your own backyard.

Instead of giving a laundry list of the sordid details, I thought I’d just share some shots of Bourbon Classic 2020.

Bourbon Classic shot

Soak your curiosity: Bourbon Classic 2020 starts Thursday

Bourbon Classic shot

Bourbon Classic 2020 takes place Feb. 26-29. | Courtesy of Bourbon Classic

Most of us are chomping at the bit for March to arrive, which will bring warmer weather, St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans and a closer proximity to Derby. Sure, I’m looking forward to all of that as well, but let’s not forget to savor the last weekend of February, which plays host to the eighth annual Bourbon Classic.

What? You say you’ve never been? And you claim bourbon is your favorite spirit? Well, unfortunately it’s a little too late this year, because most of the events are sold out. But I’d still like to inform you about it so you know what to expect when tickets go on sale for next year!

But before I soak your curiosities with bourbon knowledge, let me just say that I’ve attended every year of the Bourbon Classic, and I not only have the time of my life enjoying whiskey, cocktails and food, but I also learn something each time — whether that be a process of bourbon-making or more about my own preferences and tastes.

I’ll be attending this year’s festivities, of course, so stay tuned to my social media outlets for annoying, nonstop posting. If you need a reminder:

Now, let’s get to the Classic.

The only event not sold out is Savor, held on Wednesday, Feb. 26, at Volare. It’s a five-course dinner created by Chef Josh Moore, served alongside Barton 1792 bourbons. The full menu is available online, as are the tickets, which are $95.

Here’s a brief synopsis of the main events, all of which are sold out. So why even mention them? Well, like I said before, so you know to pounce on tickets when they go on sale next year, and also so you know where all my pictures are coming from this coming weekend!

Top Shelf — Thursday, Feb. 27

Held at 21c Museum Hotel, this event lets attendees sample four Pappy Van Winkle products — usually the 10, 12, 15 and 20 years. The bourbon also is paired with upscale food pairings at various stations throughout, courtesy of Chef Cassidee Dabney of Blackberry Farm and Executive Chef Jonathan Searle of 21c’s Proof on Main. When you’re not savoring the Pappy, there’s also a secondary bar of bourbons featuring some Buffalo Trace heavy-hitters like Weller 12, E.H. Taylor and more.

Cocktail & Culinary Challenge — Friday, Feb. 28
Bourbon classic bartender

The Cocktail & Culinary Challenge is fun for attendees, serious for participants! | Courtesy of Bourbon Classic

This is the event for those who crave cocktails and food pairings. Held at the Henry Clay, this event pairs bourbon brands with bartenders and local chefs/restaurants for a sampling and drinking extravaganza like no other. And once you work the room and try every cocktail and paired dish, the stations are reset for another round of samplings of different items! Celebrity judges choose a winner in various categories, and attendees also get to vote for their favorites.

It truly is a who’s-who of Louisville chefs and bartenders, including Josh Moore, Isaac Fox, Ming Pu, Bobby Benjamin, Ouita Michel, Damaris Phillips, Drew Hutchinson, Keri Smith … the list goes on and on! And participating bourbon brands include Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, Michter’s, Heaven Hill, Woodford Reserve, Peerless, Rabbit Hole, Barton 1792, Bulleit and George Remus.

Bourbon University & TASTE — Saturday, Feb. 29

The final Bourbon Classic event starts with two Bourbon University sessions, which are basically hour-long classes you can attend to learn more from the folks in the bourbon business. Held again at the Henry Clay, these classes cover anything from cocktails to food pairings to rare bourbon tastings. These are typically my favorite, because I’m a nerd and actually miss college.

Then, the TASTE event takes place at the same location that night and features tables and tables of bourbon samples, hosted by each brand mentioned above. There’s also food, of course, as well as cocktails and more. This is the event you want to go to if bourbon is the name of your game, as industry folks and master distillers are usually in attendance.